Exactly 23 years after the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape took place, one of the first government official to reach the village, Syed Mohammad Yasin, who was the deputy commissioner of Kupwara at that time, breaks his silence against the horrors perpetrated by Army’s 4 Rajputana Rifles regiment in the villages that have come to define the impunity enjoyed by armed forces in Kashmir.
IM) As the head of Kupwara district administration on February 23, 1991, when did you come to know about what had happened in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora? What was your immediate reaction?
MY) I wouldn’t have known because it was snowing on that day. A heavy snowfall had blocked all the roads. A village guard from Kupwara came to me. He gave me the verbal as well as the written report of what had happened in the intervening night of February 23-24, 1991, on behalf of some of the inhabitants of Kunan and Poshpora. He was visibly agitated. He recounted the horrors meted out to the villagers. He said a terrible thing had happened in the villages, that the Indian Army has raped and assaulted every woman; only toddlers were spared. His daughter and daughter-in-law were raped too. He was beaten up by Indian forces as he pleaded with them that he was a government appointed village guard.
I immediately walked to the village along with the station house officer of Trehgam and some of my staff. I was shocked to encounter the sight there. The whole village was under a spell of doom. Men were enraged and women folk had become dumb. Women were not coming forward; I realized something terrible has happened. I saw many of the young women who were raped were still shivering. I talked to the village headman and got his account.
Older women finally came forward and talked. The younger ones were in utter shock. These beasts had raped young and old. A pregnant woman, who was raped, later gave birth to a deformed child. Men were beaten and threatened against speaking out about the incident. Many of them were severely beaten. I collected empty wine bottles and blood smeared clothes of the victims. I was deeply ashamed about what I saw.
I then wrote my report based on what I had seen in the village. I didn’t mince words. I mentioned in my report that Indian Army has behaved like wild beasts and called upon the divisional commissioner, Mr Wajahat Habibullah. And I stand by what I wrote in the report; Indian Army had behaved like drunken beasts.
IM) It occurred that so many women were raped by men in uniform. Army was a powerful institution at that time, as it continues to be today. Who did you inform and did you think that the men you were going to inform will trust you?
MY) Army was powerful then and it is powerful today, but it could not have prevented me from doing my duty. It was a question of my honor and I wouldn’t shy away from my duty. And my duty required me to report what I had seen in the village to my higher-ups. I informed my senior Mr Wajahat Habibulah and many other police officials. A grave sin had been committed by the men in uniform and it could not have gone unreported by me.
My colleagues knew that I was doing the right thing, so there was no question of trust. Besides, I had great regard for Mr Wajahat Habibullah.
IM) Did you consider the likely repercussions that your decision to report the matter would have had on you and your family?
MY) Any man in that situation would consider that. But I was driven by my duty. I was duty bound to report the mass-rape of women in Kunan and Poshpura. I wasn’t scared of anything. I believe in God. Death will come on the appointed hour chosen for me by God. How could I have turned a blind eye to this inhumane act? I was answerable to God for this. My conscience was clear.
After the report reached the divisional commissioner, only then were voices raised against me. But Mr Habibullah supported me. It was a good thing that my report to Mr Habibullah was leaked. They were exposed with that.
IM) Were you pressurized by the government or any other agency to compromise? Did you receive threats?
MY) There were subtle threats initially. Some of the officers, who I would not name, tried to convince me that I change my report and offered me anything I desired in return. Others asked if I wanted a promotion, I should the compromise the report – tinker with details. The governor expressed displeasure with my report. I replied bluntly that it was what had happened. Heated words were spoken between me and the chief secretary.
But I didn’t budge and I was immediately transferred to Jammu as Special Officer Auqaf, Jammu and Kashmir. Even there, I started investigating the wrongs done by Auqaf. The chief secretary called upon me and told me that he would transfer me again to one of the districts as deputy commissioner. I refused.
Finally I was transferred to the post of agrarian commissioner and retired with this designation. They played these tactics to silence me and when I retired, they heaved a sigh of relief. (laughs)
IM) According to the report you furnished with the government, how many women were raped? There are contradictory claims.
MY) When I wrote my report, the women of Kunan and Poshpura were in a distressed state, shocked by what had happened. The younger, unmarried ones would not come forward. I spoke to 23 women but obviously a larger number than that were raped.
There was shame involved. We are Muslims. We regard the chastity of our women with utmost honor and these beasts had violated it. How could these poor women be able to talk about their violated honor in front of a magistrate? I mentioned in my report that a team of officers should be appointed to conduct an enquiry which will determine the exact number of women who were raped.
But it’s true that many more than 23 women were raped. In my report, I have stated that the culprits of this heinous crime be punished as I believe it is a darkest blot on Indian democracy.
IM) Under Section 7 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, no criminal case can be registered against any security personal without prior consent of the federal government? Do you think this inadvertently protects armed forces from prosecution against human rights abuses?
MY) You can ask this question to a judge. I cannot give you a legal opinion. My job as head of the district administration required me to see that no violations of the law took place and bring to the notice of government any occurrence of violation of law and conduct an enquiry. And that’s what I did.
All of us understand that AFSPA is not required here. There aren’t any militants around. It is a ruse. Didn’t Omar Abdullah raise a cry over its revocation and he was silenced by the Army’s top brass. Army in Kashmir cannot operate without the protection of AFSPA.
IM) Wajahat Habibullah mentions your report in his book on Kashmir. Why did it take you 20 years to come out in public and speak against the act? What was the reaction of Mr Habibullah at that time?
MY) Mr Habibullah appreciated my report and said he would act on it and ensure further enquiry. He came to the village, spoke to the victims and conducted his own enquiry, on the basis of which he wrote a report. At that time, I was performing my duty as an official. I gave my report in my capacity as a deputy commissioner. I was duty bound. It didn’t seem necessary to me at that time to come out in public as I was already doing what I could in my capacity as DC.
But now, I have come out in public because justice has been delayed. They will close this matter just like they did in the Pathribal fake encounter case. I don’t want that to happen. It now happens that several human rights organizations are approaching me to speak about the incident and I don’t refuse them. I will speak against the barbarity of the act committed by 4 Rajputana Rifles of Indian Army against hapless women of Kunan and Poshpura. The rape has happened; there is absolutely no doubt about that.
I will speak wherever I am required. But I won’t play politics over it. I extend my support and solidarity to the victims and will help them whenever I am needed.
IM) Do you think justice will ever be done to the survivors of Kunan Poshpora mass rape?
MY) It should be done. We have to fight. We have to support the victims. Wrong is wrong. Any injustice committed against one person is injustice against all. However, I think justice cannot be done till Indian Army is in Kashmir. They exercise full control over Kashmir. Federal government keeps ministers and bureaucrats in its fist. But we must stand together in this fight for justice.
Originally published here — https://archive.authintmail.com/article/murmurs-whispers/conversation-syed-mohammad-yasin